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My Safety Net – Psalm 34:18

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
t 10 o’clock on Saturday morning, the noisy siren blasted throughout the campus of the boarding school, announcing the hour for morning break.
“Candy Line! It’s time for the Candy Line!” Children called to each other from all four corners of the school playground repeating the happy announcement. All week I had looked forward to this exciting treat. In our first-grade classroom, in the dormitory, and at mealtimes, the teachers and older kids explained how each first-through-sixth grader got candy on Saturdays.
Sheena and I raced each other across the playground. Just past the big mango tree, we stopped short and joined the tail end of a line of several dozen excited youngsters. Along the office wing, directly in front of the Tuck Shop door, stood a square folding table with a dorm Aunt and Uncle sitting behind it.
Their hands hovered over two large piles of wrapped candy as they dished out four pieces to each child. When I got to the front of the line, the adults handed me three little toffees and one lemon sucker. My heart sank. Not those! I thought. I only like chocolate.

Looking for Help

Glancing up, I frowned. The Tuck Shop door behind the table was open, and I caught a glimpse of the special candy that Mommy bought me each time we drove to the big city. Stacked in a box on the nearest shelf were tubes of British Smarties®! They were like the M&Ms® in America, but here in Nigeria we had British candy. These tasted even better than M&Ms®, because the crisp, sugar coating had fruity flavors, and they came packaged in a long cardboard tube with a bright-colored plastic cap.
“Can I trade these for Smarties®?” I asked the Uncle.
“No. This is all the candy we have for little kids. You take what you get. Only staff and junior highers can buy things from the Tuck Shop.”
Dropping the candy on the edge of the table, I ran back to the dormitory and threw myself across my bed. In that quiet refuge, my hot tears fell onto the bedspread. All week long I had looked forward to the Candy Line anticipating chocolate, but now I felt a crushing disappointment.
Just then, a Big Sister walked past my door and poked her head through the opening. “Why aren’t you outside? You’d better run out to the playground before you get into trouble!”, she commanded.
Wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, I heaved myself off the bed. “Okay! Okay!” My throat felt scratchy, as if I had swallowed a scouring pad. Dragging my leaden feet across the floor, I turned left down the hall, then glanced into my friend Sheena’s room.
I stepped in, drawn to the pretty dresser tops. Each was covered with many nicer things than in my room. My eyes roved over luxurious-looking lotion bottles, lip gloss, a gold-framed mirror, and even a miniature ceramic puppy. Off to one side, obviously left by accident, was a packet of the candy.
Someone here had Smarties®!

Crossing the Line

This is real candy! Quickly popping open the lid, I poured a bunch into my palm, and returned the tube to the dresser. As I turned around and started toward the door, another little girl appeared in the doorway. Shoving my hands behind me, I grinned widely, trying to look innocent.
“Are you snooping in our room?” she asked me. “What’s in your hands behind your back?”
My heart sped up and my stomach clenched with fear. I got caught! I’m in big trouble!
Slowly I pulled my right hand around and forward. Turning it over, I opened my clenched fist.
She peered into my palm and huffed. “A safety pin?! Is that yours?”
I nodded. Just by luck, I had been holding a gold safety pin. Quickly shifting the candy to my left hand, I showed her the pin. Then I waited for her to ask to see the other hand. For some reason, she never did.
Then she told me, “Okay. But you have to get out now!”
“Good-bye!” I scuttled into the hallway, out the front doors, and down the steps to the safety of the playground. My eyes squinted in the bright sunlight as I stuffed the stolen treat into my mouth. Mmmm! The sugar-coated, chocolate pieces tasted sweet as I savored them on my tongue.
Too soon they melted and were gone.
My tummy felt tight all the way up until lunch time. Then at the table, I just picked at the roast beef, mashed potatoes and peas, pushing them around my plate, hoping they would disappear.

Looking Back

My first year at boarding school was bewildering. Besides the heavy weight of homesickness, the next hardest aspect of life at Kent Academy, was that I didn’t have an adult with whom to discuss each day’s events. As a six-year-old, I needed a safe person to help me process weighty emotions such as disappointment, temptation, and a guilty conscience. I felt like I was paddling a two-man kayak down a swift, winding, rocky river by myself.
The junior high boys and girls helped look after the younger kids. However, they had their own rapids to navigate. I began to fear getting into trouble and started to lie, or hide the truth, in order to avoid punishment. Pretense became my safety net. When I couldn’t be good enough, I could cover up my failings and try to look good.

What I Know Now

During those tumultuous first months, I believe God was guiding, comforting, and protecting me. I didn’t always feel him near, hear his voice, or know he was thinking of me. Yet often at night as I lay awake after lights out, I poured out my troubles to him. I learned how to go to God and others, seeking guidance, assistance, or forgiveness. Over the years, I encountered many more periods of confusion and change, but I discovered that God showed up to help me in each one. He truly is close to the brokenhearted.

Link It to Your Life:

Was there a time when you felt confused about your circumstances? How have you seen God protecting, guiding, or comforting you throughout your life?
Prayer: Father, thank you that I can find safety in you at all times, especially when everything in me and around me is in turmoil.


Born in Alameda, California, Debbie Jones Warren moved to Nigeria with her missionary parents before her first birthday. Debbie and her husband, Chris, now make their home in Castro Valley. They have three amazing, accomplished young adult children. Debbie enjoys collecting china teacups and hosting teas for friends and neighbors. You can read more from her at


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